Black students’ suspension, expulsion get a PLUG

By Lincoln DePradine

The recently launched community initiative, PLUG Project, has set out to rectify black students’ suspension and expulsion from school, which the partners believe is a major issue.

“It is very serious. There is definitely racism in the schools and it’s impacting the success of our students,” said Tony Jno Baptiste, program manager at TAIBU Community Health Centre on

PLUG Project launch and information session in Scarborough were from left Nadine Sutherland Tony Jno Baptiste and Silvia Argentina Arauz and George (Knia) Singh

Tapscott Road.

At least two things will be done with the launch of the PLUG Project.

Jno Baptiste said, “one, is a pro-active approach where we are working with parents and students, educating them on their rights and doing advocacy with them.

“The second is representation. We would be representing students who have been suspended, through the support of the legal firm MA’AT, to work with the students to get them back into school,” he said.

TAIBU provides primary healthcare and related services for black populations across the Greater Toronto area. Residents of the Malvern community are its “priority population”.

It is the lead agency for the $100,000 PLUG Project that is funded by Legal Aid Ontario.

The PLUG Project, which is being implemented in Scarborough and in Etobicoke by the Rexdale Community Health Centre, is grounded in statistics that show that black children are disproportionately punished, suspended and expelled from school.

A report from the Toronto District School Board, for example, has revealed that of 213 students expelled under the board’s jurisdiction between 2010 and 2016, half were black.

Studies have also shown that black students, their parents and families do not have adequate knowledge, information and support on how to navigate the school system. The experience, as well, is also known to affect some students’ mental health.

Although the PLUG Project was initiated two months ago, it was only launched by TAIBU on November 30, in Scarborough. A west-end launch and information session were scheduled for December 7 at Kipling Collegiate Institute.

Students and parents, utilizing the PLUG Project, benefit from legal services from MA’AT law firm, as well as from assistance from Silvia-Argentina Arauz, a school support supervisor.

Arauz said, “I have over 13 years of advocacy. I’m also a mom. I have two teenage black latino boys myself; so, a lot of the things that I’ve experienced, I’m also seeing other families experience. I have thepersonal, but I also have the professional.”

She is alsoa junior intermediate teacher from the urban diversity program at York University.

At the recent launch and information session in Scarborough, parents Hope Singh and Colombia-born Sindi De La Cruz, who spoke in Spanish that was translated into English by Arauz, testified on how they were helped by the PLUG Project team, in trying to get their sons returned to school.

“Our goal is not only to address suspension and expulsions when they happen, but also to stop the breakdown in communication before it gets to that,” lawyer George (Knia) Singh of MA’AT Legal Services, told The Caribbean Camera.

He also admitted that expulsion and suspension of black students are a troubling issue.

“It’s more serious than I could describe. I see, through the courts, the results of kids getting suspended and then getting into trouble with crime,” Singh said.

“The problem is huge. Most black kids in school do not feel like they belong, and the teachers treat them like they don’t belong. And so, if you have a combination of feeling inferior and then being treated as you’re inferior, you have tremendous detrimental results.”

Nadine Sutherland, Outreach Worker at TAIBU, said in spreading the word of the PLUG Project, she is able to relate her own experience of having being told by a high school teacher that she’ll “become nothing in life”.

Sutherland, a recent graduate of Humber College, said she has beaten the stereotypes and is nowtrying “to empower other parents and students to do the same”.